Author Archive

Confessions of a Bankrobber, Terrorist, Priest, and….

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

I just saw Protagonist, a documentary about the lives of four men, including Joe Loya, a convicted bank robber turned journalist and writer. A few years ago, I read his memoir, The Man Who Outgrew His Prison Cell, and later got to know him a bit. I went to the premier of Protagonist with little reconnaissance on the film save for the fact that its protagonists were men whose lives had been ruled by crime, terrorism, martial arts, and Christianity. Ninety minutes later, I left rapt by this riveting rumination on masculinity and man’s obsessive need for self-control, and blown away by the masterful storytelling technique of filmmaker Jessica Yu. It’s unlike any film I’ve ever seen, one I’ll carry it with me for a long time.

The day after the screening, I arrived at my office so amped up about Protagonist that one of officemates saw it three hours later, texting me moments after to say that she couldn’t wait to discuss the film. In this story’s obsessive spirit, I’m on a mission to spread the word.
Read this rave from The New York Times. Watch this trailer below.

Full On With Leonard Nimoy

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Leonard Nimoy—famous for portraying the Spock character in the Star Trek universe—did not set out to photograph naked fat women. He got lucky.

A talented and passionate photographer who built his own darkroom out of found parts as a teen, Nimoy has been creating black-and-white art photography since the early 1970s. As Houston Museum of Fine Arts photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker explains, Nimoy’s work explores deep themes such as “his Jewish heritage, a concern for human dignity and the concept of Shekhina, a Talmudic term for the manifestation of God on earth.” Shekhina is the title of Nimoy’s first book of photographs.

His most recent book of fine art photographs is called The Full Body Project, an exploration of proud fat women. Although I am not one of Nimoy’s models, I too am a proud fat women; this project resonates with in a very personal way.

I have always been fat. I wasn’t always proud. Then, in the mid-1990s, I started a ‘zine and then wrote a book, both called FAT!SO?, to express what might be called fat pride. In the process of being the proudest possible fat woman, I got lucky. I met another proud fat woman named Heather MacAllister, who founded Big Burlesque & the Fat Bottom Revue, “the world’s first exclusively plush-size, gender-inclusive burlesque ensemble.” Before her recent death, Heather fought fiercely to expand the world’s definition of beauty and sexuality and humanity to include all of us. In one of her proudest pieces of work, Heather and her dancers posed for Leonard Nimoy.

The Full Body Project is a near-perfect book of images, with an elegant introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Natalie Angier. It’s also an ongoing project for each one of us, the project of living fully in our bodies. It was with a great pleasure that this proud fat woman (six-word memoir: “This body, this fat, this life!”) spoke with Leonard Nimoy about the story behind these luscious, liberating, loving photographs.

Marilyn Wann: I’m curious about the story of how this book, The Full Body Project, came to happen. I’d love to hear how you met your first fat model.
Leonard Nimoy: The story of this book begins with a lady on a black background, lying on a black cloth in the back of the book. My wife and I have a house in Lake Tahoe. A camera shop owner in the area, in Carson City, heard I was in the area and contacted me to do an exhibit, which I did. I was showing some of the earlier work from a book that I published called Shekhina, about the feminine aspect of God. There were a number of people who showed up and one woman approached me and she said, “I’m a model. I’m a different body type than what you’re working with. I wonder whether you’re interested in working with me.” And we did. She came to our home in Lake Tahoe.

I’m trying to picture the conversation you and your wife had, driving home from the gallery show.
I said, “What do you think?” And she said, “You ought to try it, break some boundaries and do something different.” I was concerned about it because I wanted to make sure I did her justice. I wanted to find an appropriate way to photograph her. I’d never photographed that body shape or size. I wasn’t sure how to do it. But I found a way, in black and white photography, to make a kind of sculptural look. I told her that I wouldn’t publish the pictures unless she approved and she said she would show them to her husband. I had paid her, like any model. So she showed them to her husband, and she said that he said, “That’s my girl.” So I said, “Okay then, we’re on.”

This sounds like a different level of caution than you use with average-body models.
Yes. I think, too, that she had not done a lot of figure modeling. Although she called herself a model, her work had come in advertising modeling and so it was not fine art work.

What happened next in the story of this book?
We subsequently showed some of those images in other exhibitions of my work. These got a lot of attention. I realized that there’s a difference between making artwork and making documentation in photography. A lot of my previous work would be described as fine art or art photography. It was all based on a concept that I had developed, or some other subject, and I was using models to help express that idea. In this case the work was a crossover between artwork and documentation. It was about a concept but it was also about her story.

So you were telling her story in addition to telling your own story about the subject.
I was telling a story about this particular person. As a result, it was a different kind of photography. When people saw the picture, they wanted to know about her. They had the same questions you’re asking. So I became curious about this question of body image in our culture. I contacted a model here in Los Angeles who is not a fat body activist or a fat model, but she’s a model activist and works with a lot of different kinds of models. I asked her if she knew of anybody who might fall in that category and she put me in touch with Heather MacAllister.

Whose troupe, Big Burlesque, were revolutionary in bringing fat people to burlesque and bringing fat visibility to the public.
I contacted Heather and I sent her a couple of images that I wanted to replicate. It was the image that is on the cover of the book, which was originally done by Herb Ritts of high fashion models Linda Evangelista, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell. I said to Heather, “I’d like to replicate this with you.” I also wanted to do a diptych, two pictures of four women walking toward the camera, one of them clothed and the other one nude, and that was based on a diptych by a very famous fashion photographer named Helmut Newton. So I sent her Helmut’s pictures and that’s how we began.

We went to San Francisco and we photographed Heather and her group there. Then a year later, they were coming to Los Angeles to perform and we agreed to photograph them again at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. That’s the whole story.

I wasn’t sure that I had enough pictures for a book. I think that’s when I contacted you. I was looking for more models. But Garrett White, an editor from Fiveties Publishing, which later published the book, contacted me. He had seen some of the pictures—and said, “Do you have more?” I gave Fiveties my contact sheets and they went through and found the book.

I think it’s a strong book because of the group of models, and then the single model at the end who’s so powerful. What was it like for you, who perhaps had not come across fat pride activists before?
Very educational.

What did you learn?
I learned a lot about body image in our culture. Heather said to me, “Beauty is culture driven.” I realized that we are swamped with advertising that tells women in our culture—95 percent or maybe 99 percent of them—-that they don’t look right. That they should be buying these pills or buying this diet program or buying these exercises or buying this surgery to try to get closer to what the culture says they should look like. It’s a gigantic amount of pressure on an enormous number of people who are not going to look like what this culture says is required.

I actually have a feeling of concern for the models who are perceived as beautiful and then their stories aren’t a point of curiosity. When we look at, say, a Herb Ritts photograph of a typically beautiful woman, by our cultural definition of beauty, why don’t we wonder what her story is? Is it because her beauty somehow erases her story?
I think you’re right. I think they’re objectified. It’s not the story or the person we’re looking at, it’s the image. We’re not even looking at the person; we’re looking at the image of her.

And that image is somehow a different thing from the person.
Quite different. I think the photographs in this book tell us that we’re looking at some quite specific people. These are very real people. Their exuberance and their sense of life comes off the page.

Do you have a feeling of points of contact from your own life experience and the fat models that you worked with and their life experience?
Anybody who has ever felt alienated knows what this is all about. To me, it’s a question of being marginalized and alienated. When I first came to Los Angeles looking for work as an actor, there was a particular kind of look that Hollywood was buying in those days—and it wasn’t me. They wanted the typical, blond-haired, blue-eyed guy. Tab Hunter was hot stuff. So my agent took me and we made the rounds of the studios and nobody was interested because I was just wrong. I wasn’t what you would call a pretty guy.

Has that feeling of being an outsider affected your work?
I had to rely on a belief that if I was good enough, I could overcome the visual. If I learned my craft and worked hard and became valuable as a performer rather than as a look, then I would find my way to a career. I concentrated on being able to do the work better than the next person.

Well, it all worked out. And aren’t you making a new movie soon?
Yes, I’m going to be acting in a new Star Trek movie.

Do you mind if I ask you about the reaction to your comment in The New York Times feature on you about the sexual attractiveness of your models and whether you found them beautiful or sexually attractive. I find it a funny kind of a question, but evidently that was something The New York Times asked you and it stirred up a bit of a controversy.
I’ll tell you, the writer of the Times article, Abby Ellin, has said that the editor insisted that the question had to be asked because people would be curious about it, my sexual reaction to these women. I understand that and I have no problem with it. I think Abby did a terrific job and a very honest job in reporting what my photographs were about. My answer is that I don’t have any sexual intent or interest in any of these models that I work with.

In all of your work?
Yes. There may be sexual suggestions and there may be people who find the models sexy in one way or another or who are interested sexually in the models, whatever type they may be. When I’m doing the work, I’m not thinking sex, I’m thinking image. I’m thinking about a look, I’m thinking about an idea, I’m thinking about a concept. I’m totally preoccupied with that. I don’t get aroused doing these photographs with any of the models I work with. So it’s not an issue for me.

I find it curious that The New York Times, the great, Gray Lady, found it so necessary to ask that question when you photograph fat women.
I think it’s a question a lot of people think. “Why is Nimoy photographing these fat women? What is his interest in these women?” A lot of people wonder. My answer is that I’m interested in these women as human beings.


BUY The Full Body Project..
VISIT Leonard Nimoy’s site.
LISTEN to a fascinating interview with Nimoy on NPR’s Weekend Edition.

Is K-Ville Real or a Faux Gumbo?

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

leo.jpgEditor’s note: As the first season of the New Orleans-set K-Ville wraps up, we decided to ask Leo McGovern, a character in our webcomic A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge for his review.

Speak to a New Orleanian who’s seen the series K-Ville and he’ll say one of two things: I love the show and embrace its deficiencies like a Saints fan does a blowout loss—even if the end result isn’t pretty, it doesn’t matter as long as we have a good time along the way. Or: I hate the show and chalk up its cheesiness to the show’s writers being lazy and a slap in the faces of the citizens who are sticking it out every day and aren’t clichéd representations. A television shows hasn’t been as polarizing since American Idol.

kville_1.jpgI grew up in the New Orleans area and have seen the gamut of emotions that our citizens have; the feeling about K-Ville is that’s it’s another example of mass media patronizing New Orleans and fabricating a sense of corporate sympathy. (more…)

Halle or Andie? Who’s the Most Beautiful Pregnant Woman, Ever?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Halle_preg.jpg Andie_preg_bad2.jpg
Among the many upsides of being known as a guy who celebrates pregnant women is that many of your friends make sure you don’t miss Maxim’s important new feature, The Nine Hottest Pregnant Women, Ever. No surprises here: Halle Berry is almost too beautiful to bear whether she’s on her way to the Oscars, attempting to look downtrodden in Monster’s Ball, or beginning to pop. Naomi Watts big as a boat? Still a babe. Angelina Jolie and Heidi Klum glow even brighter with child, if that’s even possible. No news here. Which is why at SMITH we point our lens at the real women with life stories perhaps a little closer to yours and mine. And real women have great curves. To which we submit: Andie or Halle? Lara Swimmer in sunglasses or Brooke Burke by the pool? Who is the most beautiful pregnant woman, ever? And might she be walking among us?
Lar_Lara_preg_1.jpg BrookeBurke_1.jpg

“Your Father Ruined The Soup!” (an other explosive Turkey Day Tales)

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

A wonderful, stumbled upon, perfectly timed tale for Turkey Day: Andy Raskin’s story from This American Life about his father’s attempt to mess with a cherished squash soup recipe, the squabble that ensues, and the familial battlelines drawn. In these eight perfect minutes, this silly little soup story encapsulates so much of the emotion, drama, insanity, and love that we feel around this time of year, a time when we put all our cards, and sometimes soup, on the dinner table (I think I need to listen to this every year, along with Alice’s Restaurant). And if talky, much-ado-about-soup storytelling doesn’t butter your roll, then maybe a video of an exploding bird will. Turn up the volume, press play, and have a happy holiday.

Add to My Profile | More Videos

Coming Soon: GARCIA Mag

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

jerry.jpg Gaeljpg.jpg
Demographics is destiny, as my friend and occasional Spanish translator Marlene Braga reminds us. As counted by the Census and reported in The New York Times, even as Smith remains the most popular surname in the land, with 2.4 million of us, our ranks are indeed in decline.* Meanwhile, many Spanish surnames on the move. Hot on the heels of Smith are Garcia (No. 8, up from the 18th spot) and Rodriguez (all the way to No. 9 from 22nd place—and one of them has quite a big contract). Says the Newspaper of Record:

Demographers pointed to more than one factor in explaining the increase in Hispanic surnames.

Generations ago, immigration officials sometimes arbitrarily Anglicized or simplified names when foreigners arrived from Europe.

“The movie studios used to demand that their employees have standard Waspy names,” said Justin Kaplan, an historian and co-author of The Language of Names.

“Now, look at Renée Zellweger,” Mr. Kaplan said.

Exactly. And so to Ms. Zellweger and the Garcias of the world we say: Todos tenemos una historia.

- - -

*SMITH ranks, however, are in the rise.

Jerry Garcia from Flickr user Janesdead.

Gael Garcia Bernal from Flickr user Osei.

Shoot Out the Lights

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Thanks to everyone who celebrated the U.S. release of Shooting War with a reading at Barnes & Noble and then a rockin’ party at the always sultry Sutra Lounge. Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman take their show on the road with a seven-city U.S. tour now—details here. You can cruise through Dan’s photos here. Check out today’s fantastic plug for the book in Daily Candy and this dynamite feature in Newsweek.

Books for Story Lovers (or: solve your holiday shopping problems here)

Monday, November 19th, 2007

When I left traditional magazines, I figured I would never have to hear the phrase “holiday shopping guide” again. Yet here we are in mid-November, 2007 and I am about to format the follow sentence in bold: Attention holiday shoppers who love great storytelling and hate shopping!

That’s right friends, welcome to SMITH Magazine’s first and possibly annual guide to the best books to give as presents. In the tradition of these things, I’ve categorized these books to make it super, super easy. Five clicks and five problems solved. Why? Because we love storytelling. We love these books. And we’re here to help.

SW_cover.jpgFor the political animal and/or comic-loving geek and/or guy in your life you just can never figure out what to get: Shooting War by Anthony Lappé and Dan Goldman debuted on SMITH and is now being hailed everywhere from USA Today to The Wall Street Journal as the most-anticipated graphic novel of the year. The Huffington Post says we’ll all look smart if we put it on our coffee tables. Give Shooting War to anyone you want to help look smart.
Also receiving votes:The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming

Red_Cover.jpgFor the smart, angsty teenage girl in your life, or pre-teen who, let’s face it, will enter a world of weirdness and misunderstanding soon enough: Red: The Next Generation of American Writers—Teenage Girls—On What Fires Up Their Lives Today, in which 60 teenage girls write with guts, emotion, humor, and the raw brilliance that comes with being a teen about the likes of love, loneliness, learning to rock climb, and starting a rock band. It’s edited by friend of SMITH Amy Goldwasser, which is one reason we know it’s dynamite. The young women she’s unearthed are 60 more.

StoryCorpsBook.jpgFor your mother, your grandmother, or anyone else who listens to way too much NPR: Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project by David Isay. From NPR’s StoryCorps, the folks who set up the oral history recording booths in Grand Central Station and elsewhere, comes the most compelling life stories from among the 10,000 StoryCorps has collected.
And another powerful take on the power of listening: The Unheard by Josh Swiller, a wonderful memoir about the author’s deafness, the Peace Corps, and finding one’s place in the world.

todo_book.jpgFor the obsessive-compulsive and/or secret Santa with a $20 cap: To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us by Sasha Cagen. A book of, yes, to-do lists ranging from delightfully disturbing (a spreadsheet mapping out a family’s plan for their stay in Disney World) to the disturbingly delightful (the stuff one woman wants to “get out of her head”). It’s sociology discussed as ephemera—and it works.
If you like To-Do List, You’ll Love..: A Lifetime of Secrets: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren, the latest book from the brilliant online experiment in voyeurism, secrets, and probably some lies, PostSecret.

NonRequired.jpgFor the big-lit lover who would rather read than talk to you or anyone else in the family:The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007, edited by Dave Eggers, with an intro by Sufjan Stevens. An anthology of wonderful, smart and surprising nonfiction, fiction, comics, blogs, and, according to Amazon. 6WORDMEM_yellow_blue.JPG“anything else that defies categorization”—which we suspect means the selection of six-word memoirs found on page 12 that have been excerpted from SMITH’s forthcoming book from HarperCollins, Not Quite What I Was Planning: And Other Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure … which is not out until February, but why not get a jump on your Valentine’s Day shopping?

Be Your Own Superhero

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

JahFurryLogo.jpgHere’s what I’d get SMITH’s comics editor Jeff Newelt, aka JahFurry, for the holidays if I were a rich man: a personalized superhero story for his apartment wall, which would have to be called “The Adventures of JahFurry.” According to a story in T Magazine, the artist Loren Kreiss has started a hyper-cool business aimed at the lux, geek set (JahFurry and I have the “geek” part down). Kreiss does extensive interviews with his subject, writes a narrative story about that person’s life, and then tells the story in larger-than-life comic form (or has another artist illustrate it if Kreiss feels his style isn’t right for the subject). The result is a comic starring you on your very own wall. Total time: about six months. Total bill: $10,000 and up. But man would you have a super story to tell.

This Quarter Life

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

The simultaneous debut of a social networking site and fictional MySpace-broadcast show, quarterlife, is a funny moment in the personal media space. The show’s a soap opera, much like a lot of social networking, and at once a genius and appalling idea. The L.A. Times is disappointed so far in how the creators have explored the medium. “Apart from and the already hoary dodge of creating MySpace profiles for their fictional characters (all of whom sadly have kept ‘Tom’ as their top friend),” writes Robert Lloyd, [the creators] have done nothing to explore or exploit the peculiarities of their new-media medium.” In the first episode, a raven-haired thing named Dylan (shocking name choice, we know) offers her thoughts on blogging. “What is a blog?” she asks rhetorically. “Why do we blog? We blog to exist. Therefore we …. we are idiots.” Well put.

What’s your quarter-life crisis? Does it look anything like this video below?

SMITH Magazine

SMITH Magazine is a home for storytelling.
We believe everyone has a story, and everyone
should have a place to tell it.
We're the creators and home of the
Six-Word Memoir® project.